ESSAY: Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street Movements: A Perspective Towards a Non-Hegemonic Order


IMG_0720Abstract: The struggle for social justice and participative democracy seems to reach its zenith. From Africa to the Middle East, and from Europe to the Americas, people from all walk of life, students, teachers, university professors, political and religious leaders have joined social movements asking for a better distribution of the wealth of the nations. In a world where the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer, and an economic system that fails the majority while protecting the top one percent, social and political uprisings are unavoidable. For whenever people feel socially and politically disenfranchised, humiliated and helpless, they will revolt, and when they start revolting, they will not stop until radical change takes place. Thus, with a failure of capitalism and the western-based democracy, a new world order is inevitable. As I will argue, it will be a non-hegemonic order.

Key words: Social Movements, non-hegemonic order, capitalism, social justice and world order.

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Karl Marx & Frederick Engels 1971:32).


It is widely shared that whenever a majority is deprived of its political, social, and economic rights, revolutionary movements or social revolutionary movements are unavoidable. To understand the above concepts, it is important to define the former and the latter, though only the latter will be discussed for the purpose of this paper. Tilly Charles wrote that a revolutionary movement is a social movement in which “contenders, or a coalition of contenders, advancing exclusive competing claims to [either] control of the state, or some part of it” (Charles 1993: 10). However, the social revolutionary movement—referred to as social movement throughout this paper—is a movement defined as “a collective challenge to existing arrangements of power and distribution by people with common purposes and solidarity, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities” (David S. Meyer & Sidney Tarrow 1998: 4).

Theda Skocpol noted that “social movements are rapid, basic transformations of a society’s state and class structures;” Sckocpol further added, “They [social movements] are accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below” (Skocpol 1979: 4). Similarly, Jeff Goodwin argued that both revolutionary movement and social revolutionary movement could barely be separated from each other. He wrote, “Under certain circumstances, social movement may become revolutionary, and revolutionary movement may become social movements” (Goodwin 2001: 10). Therefore, social movements whether they occur in the core or in the peripheral states, as I will discuss, are originated in the struggle for social, political, and economical equality. One of the characteristics of social movement is that they transcend class; they are based on a circumstantial or historical alliance between different oppressed groups within the proletariat, whose demands and goals are identical. They aim at changing the state apparatus, which often favors the elite or bourgeoisie class. As a result of the state’s favoritism, the elite become the ruling class and thereafter the hegemon. Thus, social movements can either be looked at as counter-hegemonic or a non-hegemonic movement. For the purpose of this paper, a social movement will be classified as a non-hegemonic movement—a movement aiming at building a national or global non-hegemonic order.

This essay is an attempt to explain how the current social movements in the core and peripheral states symbolize the features of a non-hegemonic world order. To further the discussion, I will begin by defining hegemony and non-hegemony while using gramscian and coxian theoretical frameworks; describe the role of social movement in the future of the new world order; provide an analysis of the current economic system; offer an understanding of the goals of both Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements (OWS); include an overview of the non-hegemony theory; then conclusively argue that the liberal economic system has failed —the gap between wealthy and the poor is widening and grievances against the system are culminated. Those hurdles explain the rationale behind the failure of the current system, and why the emergence of a new world order is inevitable.

Theoretical Frameworks

            Traditionally, in mainstream International Relations (IR) field, the word hegemony is often associated with imperialism and dominance. For example, it is used to compare a country like the United States with China while emphasizing on the economic strength and military capability of each of them. While the use of hegemony in that sense seems to dominate the mainstream IR literatures, Italian writer and politician, Antonio Gramsci’s understanding of hegemony is critical, and perhaps unprecedented amongst IR scholars due to his historical approach of the concept.

Gramsci’s conception of hegemony, as Robert Cox (1983: 163) wrote, is rooted in “two main strands,” the first came from the Third International debate “concerning the strategy of the Bolshevik revolution and the creation of a Soviet socialist state,” and the second, from the Italian writer and politician, Niccolò Machiavelli’s writing, specifically in The Prince. Gramsci’s first ‘strand’ of hegemony is that “the workers exercised hegemony over the allied classes and dictatorship over the enemy classes;” this approach is similar to that of Lenin, who referred to “the Russian proletariat as both a dominant and a directing class”. Cox pointed out that when Gramsci applied the first strand to the bourgeoisie, he was able to distinguish cases in which “the bourgeoisie had attained a hegemonic position of leadership over other class from those in which it had not” (Cox 1983: 163).

Secondly, while Machiavelli, in his time, was concerned about “finding the leadership and the supporting social basis for a united Italy,” Gramsci was interested in “finding the leadership and the supportive basis for an alternative to fascism.” In other words, Gramsci was looking to the “Modern Prince” which was “the revolutionary party engaged in a continuing and developing dialogue with its own base of support.” Thus in the second strand, by connecting Machiavellian’s approach of power, Gramsci’s idea of hegemony, as Cox wrote, is “the relations of dominance and the subordination.” As a result, “the hegemony of a dominant class thus bridged the conventional categories of state and civil society, categories that retained a certain analytical usefulness but ceased to correspond to the reality” (Cox 1983: 164). Contrary to the mainstream definition of hegemony, which equates it to dominance, from Gramsci’s historical approach, hegemony is not merely a synonym for dominance, but a form of dominance that “refers more to a consensual order so that ‘dominance by a powerful state may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition of hegemony’”(Andreas Bieler & Adam David Morton 2004:87).

Hence, Cox, Bieler and Morton may agree with Marx’s statement states that “every society has been based… on the antagonism of oppressing [the ruling class or the hegemon] and oppressed [proletariat or subordinate class] classes” (Marx & Engels 1971:44). Summarizing Cox, Gramsci, and Marx’s approaches of hegemony, one can conclude that in the course of a successful social movement leading to drastic social, political, and economic reform in the hegemonic position held by the former can fall into the hand of the latter and vice-versa. If hegemony is the relations between the dominant class and the subordinate class or a form of dominance, then what is non-hegemony?

According to Cox, “A period in which a world hegemony has been established can be called hegemonic and one in which dominance of a non-hegemonic kind prevails, [can be called] non-hegemonic.” An important aspect of Cox’s definition of non-hegemony was used in the period of 1875-1945 to exemplify a time where all the “features” of hegemonic order “were reversed;” for example, British supremacy was challenged by other European countries; “free trade was superseded by protectionism;” and another important element is that the “world economy fragmented into economic blocs [;] and this was a non-hegemonic period” (Cox 1983: 170).

Similarly, today, the world is not only divided in core, semi-peripheral and peripheral states, but it is also divided into economic blocs such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China and South-Africa), MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey), and the G7. In addition, the continuing social discontentment and the endless collective demands for a new political, social and economic system that works for all in both core and peripheral states in the past several decades, have led to several global social unrests and social movements. Examples of the latter are the Arab Spring, the OWS, and many indigenous movements throughout the Latin American region; so far, those demands have not been met. The question arises: Does the current social movements in the core and the peripheral states set the stage for a non-hegemonic order? As I will discuss in the next section, Cox in his careful analysis of what a new hegemonic order could look like, argues that it will be premature and irrational to envision the configuration of the future of a new hegemonic order, instead he hypothesized three distinctive outcomes as the future of it (Cox 1981: 149).

Social Movements: Towards a Non-hegemonic Order

While critically analyzing the impact of ongoing social forces, the continuing and the remaking of the state system and the prospect of a future world economic order, Cox admitted that it would be “logically inadmissible, as well as, imprudent” to predict the future of new world order “upon the forgoing considerations.” However, he added that as result of these forces and their different configurations, one could consider “the hypothetical configurations most likely to lead to three different outcomes as to the future of state system.” The first one is ‘a new hegemony’ constructed upon an internationalizing of production; a second one is a non-hegemonic, which could spring from a “neo-mercantilist coalitions which linked national capital and established labour;” and a third one, which he considers as “a more remotely possible outcome” is the development of a counter-hegemonic, based on the support of a coalition from the peripheral countries against the core countries (Cox 1981: 149-150).

Cox’s concern vis-à-vis the third possible configuration as the future of a new world order is what he called “the state class.” The state class, Cox wrote, “could be understood as a local response to the forces generated by the internationalizing of the production, and an attempt to gain some local control over these forces.” Another problem with state classes is that they are “susceptible to incorporation to a new hegemonic world economy” (Cox 1981: 151). Consequently, the second outcome, a non-hegemonic order as the future of a new world order seems to be a more realistic, perhaps a feasible outcome of a new world economic order. As Cox pointed out, the success of the second outcome depends on the “opposing coalition” from the core countries aiming at attacking the “monetarism” that subordinates “the national welfare to external forces;” for expressing “illusionary faith in the markets;” Cox added “the new structural form of neo-mercantilism within core states would be industry-level and national-level corporatism,” which would bring “national capital and organized labour into a relationship with the government for the purpose of making and implementing of the state policy” (Cox 1981: 150).

Moreover, as many IR scholars, Francis Fukuyama is preoccupied by the economic model laissez faire, which, according to him, led to the recent global economic crisis. As he stated in his article, “Something strange is going on in the world today…the global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past three decades.” He wrote, “It is conceivable that the Occupy Wall Street movement [left-ring movement] will gain traction.” Nonetheless, he remarked that the right-wing Tea Party movement, an anti-regulatory state has become more dynamic than the OWS movement (Fukuyama 2012:53). Notwithstanding his harsh criticism of the neoliberal economic system, Fukuyama expressed concerns about the future of the new economic world order. He wrote, “The dangers inherent of such a movement are obvious,” and “a pullback by the United States, in particular, from its advocacy of a more open global system could set off protectionist responses elsewhere” (Fukuyama 2012:61).

Obviously, Cox’s (1983: 170) account of the declining of British hegemonic order from 1875 to 1945, and Fukuyama’s (2012:61) assessment of the 2008 economic crisis is that they both, though cautious, agreed that the current economic crisis and the social discontentment in the core and peripheral states are quintessential of the declining economic system. For example, the creation or the appearance of the historical economic blocs like MINT, BRICS, NAFTA and ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas) are examples of the failure and the inability of the neoliberal economic model to meet the growing demands of both the world working class. Thereby, it is apparent that a new world order would emerge.

Jim O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs economist and pioneer of BRICS and MINT, told Reuters, “The BRIC and the MINT countries, if I’m right, over the next decade will … shape the world economy’s development” (Tim Cocks 2014). When looking at Cox and Fukuyama’s analyses, the protest against IMF, World Bank and WTO around the globe, and the formation of these historical economic blocs in the semi-peripheral countries, one can argue that the Free market-based economic system is coming to an end, and there will be an emergence of a new one. In the next section, I will take a more grassroots approach to discuss the failure of the current economic system and what it means for the future of a non-hegemonic order.

A Failing Economic System: The Struggle for Social Justice

 Pope Francis’ criticism of capitalism is thus far the most substantial, and perhaps, the most severe criticism of the capitalist system from a sitting pope. In his recent published document, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt [shall] not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt [shall] not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills” (Francis 2013: 45). The pope further decried free market economy, which centers on competition—“the powerful feed upon the powerless;” adding to that, “masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, [and] without means to escape” (Francis 2013: 45-46).

Pope Francis refuted false and inconvincible arguments that praise the liberal economy as the ideal economic model. He wrote, “…Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about great­er justice and inclusiveness in the world.” Rebuking the liberal claim of the economy laissez faire, the pope argued:

This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile excluded are still waiting (Francis 2013: 46).

President Barack Obama, one of the proponents of the free market economy, apparently agreed with the pope’s criticism of the exclusionary economy system in which the rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer regardless of their countries, their races, and their beliefs.

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